Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Training Brains: The Latest Education Trends

A thought provoking blog post by educator Larry Cuban highlights the current fascination with applying brain-based research to unraveling the solution to the puzzle of effective teaching. While many perceive neuroscience as the new Holy Grail - where research about how the brain works can save humanity from everything from PTSD to bad leadership, the fact is, we still know very little. Current science, at best, has unlocked a few suggestions on what happens in the brain under certain (laboratory) conditions, about how the brain influences behavior and vice versa, where environment fits into the picture and clues from the emerging science of epigenetics. More intriguing is what we don't know.

It is still worth applying the rule-of-thumb contributed by cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham at the University of Virginia. In her ongoing blog, The Answer Sheet, Washington Post journalist Valerie Strauss invites guest blogger Willingham, who is associate editor of the journal Mind, Brain, and Education and the book Why Don't Students Like School, to share his caveats about tying neuroscience findings to learning:

- the brain is always changing
- the connection between the brain and behavior is not obvious
- deriving useful information for teachers from neuroscience is slow, painstaking work

Interesting idea - that we don't know what the brain is up to. So whether it is understanding our own behavior or having a clue about what techniques best motivate children to learn - or not - the brain has a mind of its own.